In Praise Of… leaving home

There are many ways in which I’ve changed in the span of 13 years of living in the United Kingdom. In part it’s down to the life changes I’ve gone through of maturing from a mid-20-something, of marrying and becoming a mother. But also it’s due to the course of my life and the decisions I’ve made and those who I’ve surrounded myself with. It’s come down to jubilations and crises.

I think if there was any piece of wisdom I, in my 38 years, could offer to anybody willing to listen, it would be to travel*. Get out of your place of comfort, away from the people you feel safe with, and let life beat you up, polish you up and change you utterly – away from home. In order for this to happen you have to spend a good while away though, not just a long vacation, not just a ‘mission trip’. But truly imbibe the new culture to which you’ve relocated, however temporarily. Don’t pine for the place you’ve left, don’t solely partake of the offerings given from your native place, whether through entertainment or reading. And given our new globally connected reality, this is easier said than done. Don’t surround yourself with only nationals of your own place who have also relocated. Become one of the locals, let it get into your bones. Talk differently. Even if you do sound like an ass to begin with.

I remember that at Bible College, before being sent to a foreign nation, the message was grafted into us, don’t become one of them, wherever you go. Always come back to the states yearly so that you don’t ‘go native’. I call bullshit. Go native. Be brave enough to let yourself become conflicted in your identity. After all, your identity shouldn’t be first and foremost as a national of any nation. But as a human, and if you subscribe to such ideology, as a child of God. Go native as a child of the universe, and smash the lenses you’ve been nurtured to wear. In less kind language I could say, the lenses you’ve been brainwashed to look through. But that’s just culture, it’s how we are, it’s what we do.

I have changed politically. I have changed in my relationship to food. My relationship to transport has changed. I garden and don’t always kill things. My faith has changed drastically. My understanding of God has increased wonderfully, even if it’s left me more puzzled overall. I have met people in this multicultural society I never would have encountered deeply – I’ve seen all continents from this place. I’ve made friends, lost friends and seen friends die. I’ve met new souls in the shape of babes. It has been rich. I am incredibly wealthy as a result.

I hope that I can share some of my impressions of living in Europe via a series of blog posts, In Praise of…

These things might exist quite obviously elsewhere, but in my journey they’ve been found here, in the United Kingdom. They’re things I’ll forever carry with me, unless my next cultural experience challenges them and allows these things to morph as well.

*As a caveat here, I realise, not everyone has the privilege to travel, not for indeterminate periods of time at least. It’s my hope that in writing this series and making suggestions about how to take advantage of our globally connected world, that wherever we find ourselves, in whatever situation, we might be able to challenge our conceptions, to live more expansively and to get out of our comfort zones, even if just by discussing a talk by a foreign speaker or reading a book by someone with an opposing view to our own. Life’s too rich not to explore.

In Praise Of… leaving home

Things that MAKE you: Boy Bands and bullying

Everyone has their story of what ‘made’ them who they are today, usually something that happened during their childhood or teen years,oftentimes related to an individual’s input into their lives or an event that shaped them and their worldview. Much of my formative years were spent fielding spit wads, gum being thrown into my hair and harsh words about how I’d chosen to identify myself: I was a ‘Blockhead’.

Blockhead

I remember sitting in our living room when the video for Please Don’t Go Girl came on. It was a sound like I’d never heard. That high-pitched pre-pubescent sounding voice was like a sea nymph’s song luring in a sailor. It sounds a bit melodramatic but this event actually changed my life. I bought New Kids on the Block’s Hangin’ Tough on vinyl, one of my first albums. I began acquiring merch. I bought each and every teen magazine with any mention of the boy band and created a scrap-book out of the photos and articles. There must be a name for this type of fanatical behaviour, verging on stalker-like.

I went to my first NKOTB concert at the Los Angeles Forum. My sister rented a limo and took me and a friend. We sat one or two rows from the back but it was incredible experience. I left with no voice but a gigantic grin that I couldn’t wipe away. I became ‘that girl’ who always had some merch on my person, preferably my Fan Club jacket adorned with badges.

Sitting in math class one day, my teacher started mocking the band for reasons I can’t recall. That was that. I organised the other fan in the class and we walked out. We refused to attend his classes until he issued a public apology. He did but he laughed his way through it (and in retrospect who could blame him for the dead-seriousness he encountered). I wonder if he remembers that as clearly as I do?

I transferred around that time to a public school, having had my fill of the private school life and wanting to meet friends who lived closer to me. Where I had to endure some teasing from private school peers I opened myself up to a host of tenacious bullying by the unbridled public school kids. The only safety was that there were more of us. We united however when it came to shows and our particular favourite of the boys, there were clashes. A girl whose name I can’t even remember now also claimed to be the #1 fan and also loved Joe. We were mortal enemies. I remember ending up at Dodgers Stadium to see them play and seeing her in the restroom. WHY did she have to be on the same level so nearby? I just couldn’t understand and we both left fuming at each other.

Around that time my focus in music shifted rather awkwardly. I discovered Metallica, Guns n Roses and other long-haired men clad in black and shredded denim. I went from being harassed for being a blockhead to being labelled a Satanist. I took the rage that I’d been storing up for years and let loose on this guy at summer school one day. It was a verbal assault on him that put that accusation to rest forever and he was only ever polite from that point.

For the rest of my high school days I carried around my NKOTB fan club subscription in my back pocket (metaphorically speaking anyways). I wasn’t harassed for that any longer as I wasn’t dressed from head to toe in my gear. During my junior year (or was it senior?) of high school, we caught wind that the guys would return on a smaller scale to promote their much more grown-up album with the release ‘Dirty Dawg’ (yup, that’s not a spelling mistake). They would be coming to the Ventura Theater, a small venue I’d had many alternative music experiences at. A few of us snapped up tickets like a secret society of enthusiasts.

I was giddy. I enjoyed the new sound in spite of it being a far cry from ‘Please Don’t Go Girl’ but friends began dropping like flies. I remember one telling me that she just couldn’t listen to them any more because they weren’t as clean as they had been. I felt like I was in a battle and soldiers were dying. Again, with the melodrama, but after being part of a subculture where we had to stick together it was stark and saddening.

That show. While I wasn’t the screaming pre-teen I had been, it ticked off so many concert experiences I couldn’t enjoy previously for being so far back from the stage. I confess… I still have the shirt I wore that day, unwashed, tucked away in a trunk imbued in the water Donnie poured out on those of us clamoring in the front. Long story short, body guards invited us back to the hotel in LA but my friends chickened out and I was unwilling to go alone. For this I am now grateful so many years on.

When people chuckle or make a comment about NKOTB to this day something in me reels. I think it’s my ‘injustice trigger’ which I feel click whenever anyone makes fun of someone near and dear to me or someone who’s on the vulnerable side. Being a blockhead shaped me. I became a fiercely loyal person, able to stand up against bullying and fight for the oppressed. Now that may sound melodramatic but in my experience of the intensity of the opposition we fans faced I can tell you it’s not. It was in some ways a living hell with so many people threatening us. I’m glad I stuck through it though and I look forward with fondness to the gig tonight at the O2.

I’ll leave you on this sentimental journey with this video. I remember watching it as it aired, hearing the screams and booing at the start (and taking the latter very personally), recording and replaying it. I memorised the dance moves though my execution was sadly lacking. But the song- the song is a great big F-You to all those who were the bullies. I feel a sense of solidarity with it.

And now the games must cease
And to the non-believers I say peace
Stop playin those games.

Things that MAKE you: Boy Bands and bullying

The year of the … owl?

Nearly all the way through January now and I’ve got somewhat ambitious plans for this new year. Chiefly, it seems as though it will be a year for learning and growing. Thus the reason I’ve questioned if it’s actually the year of the owl for me, inspiring wisdom and such. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve got owls on the brain as you’ll see in my other post today, a piece of short fiction I wrote for my creative writing course.

As I’ve said a few times on this blog (and will leave you to trawl through previous posts to find where!) I have always enjoyed writing and I struggle to do enough of it. When I do I usually have something on my mind to rant about. Thus my journey in writing from a young child writing imaginative fiction to a high school student writing angsty poems and ranting in the school paper and now an adult blogging occasionally. I’m not sure if it’s only me (and suspect it’s more of us than I’ll ever know) but at 34 I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up- and I was comforted in this experience at church this weekend when the vicar acknowledged this as felt by many and that it’s okay as we’re always growing up. One thing is certain though: writing is always something I come back to.

So armed with this conviction I set off to re-ignite my creativity in writing and to challenge myself with writing fiction rather than editorial and so signed up for an 11-week Creative Writing class. Two weeks in, I admit that the discipline is a struggle and while I do manage to sit down for a chunk of time once a week I know that I will need to cultivate more time and space in my life to truly become the writer that I think I might be. I received my copy of ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg today as recommended by my tutor to be a must-have book for every writer, and having read the first couple chapters today and getting choked up I am so grateful for this course and the input into my life.

I can see that with some of the message of this book coupled with the practicalities of the course, I am going to be well and truly confronted with who I am or more specifically who I am masking. The author is a practitioner of Zen meditation and pitches writing as an act of meditation and embracing one’s true self. As someone who has connected through writing in so many ways holistically- spiritually, emotionally, physically- I felt a sense of liberty in just reading her words and realise that I’m in for more than just a few lessons on how to write haiku or short stories.

I plan on posting some of my writing here under the category ‘The Writing Pad’ so if you’re into that kind of thing please feel free to feedback. This is about learning and growing as a writer and most importantly as an individual. Some of my writing may be disturbing and dark, some bright and silly. I hope you’ll enjoy going on this journey with me.

The year of the … owl?

Christmas Incongruities and Hope from the Margins

As the celebration of the birth of Christ approaches, I’ve had a few emails come to me with reflections on the holiday. I read this today:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:1-7 TNIV)

Jesus birth certificate?
Imagine the announcements being sent out...

I’ve heard this story year after year and yet something new strikes me almost every time. Today reading that on the bus I recalled some things I’ve been told by the church in the past and noted an incongruity with the message of this story.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that Christians should be very careful about how their lifestyles might be perceived from the outside as non-Christians may presume hypocritical living. And of course there’s a degree of truth to this, but also a vast amount of room for legalism, self-righteousness and a lack of transparency to occur with this practice.  Yet in this story, the very birth of himself, God initiates a total scandal for this young woman (teenager more like), Mary, and her fiance Joseph. We all know that but think about it a minute. Think about how ludicrous it is.

One measure I’ve been taught of how to know if something is God or not is how ‘honouring’ it would be to him- in other words, how ‘right’ and ‘moral’ does it seem to the observer or how compatible is it with scripture. Little Mary, heavily pregnant and not married was certainly not right nor moral in those days and seems to conflict with some laws somewhere in the OT. It’d be foolish to imagine that she wasn’t ostracized and rejected- marginalised by her culture for being a whore of sorts. ‘No, really guys, this is God’s baby!’ would only lend her to be further condemned by her society as a lunatic or fanatic. Joseph’s contribution to the conversation of not being the father would probably lend more credibility to him as a man but contribute to her negative image even more so.

Reflecting on all this makes me rethink what I’ve been told about discerning God’s activity around me and in my own life. It confirms to me that he’s poised to bring his kingdom through actions that would make the average church goer squirm in their pew. Of course I’ve known this, it’s just good to be reminded and to have a few more of those wobbly walls in my cozy Christian construct be dismantled.

And it’s also comforting to know that as unkind as it may seem on the one hand to give someone such a burden of rejection to carry through life as he did Mary and even Jesus the bastard himself, I’m not alone in living this way and great things come from living in the margins.

Christmas Incongruities and Hope from the Margins

The bird of satisfaction

I went along to a friend’s church today to speak briefly on the theme of Satisfaction. Without getting into the subject too much, the whole day was comprised of a hearty breakfast, Zumba workout, lunch, cake, me chatting followed by everyone chatting, an art project, and mojitos. Overall, a satisfactory way to spend a Saturday.

I enjoyed the art thing, as we all did- shredding fashion magazines to put together a collage in the shape of a bird along the theme of satisfaction. Everyone’s birds were amazing. Mine was decidedly a bit different than most, but well when working in collage everything looks a bit weird. I thought it’d make for an interesting blog post.

Gallery

For the Love of God, Don’t Call Me Pastor’s Wife.

*WARNING: This post contains some serious ranting*

I just came from meeting with someone who is relatively new to our church community, an old friend of my husband’s. I’m in no way having a dig at her because it’s not about her- it’s about what she, like so many people, have assumed about me. We were getting to know each other a bit when suddenly came the question: “So what do most of your days look like as a pastor’s wife?”

I kind of felt like I could have exploded like the Ursula, the evil witch on The Little Mermaid. I emphatically stated, “I’m not just a pastor’s wife!” When inside I was thinking 1000 other things such as “So you think *that’s* my identity and great role in life, to support my husband and not to have my own calling in addition?”, “I practice playing the organ and make sure his shirts are pressed and clean, duh”, “I make sure that all the women in the church are cared for because as a woman I’m only able to minister to other women or children.” SERIOUSLY, haven’t we come further than this?! Would anyone think to ask my husband what his days are like as the church’s community coordinator’s husband?

I am very proud of my husband, proud that he’s pastoring this group of people- but do not define me by who he is. I am my own person, I have been working in ministry for five years before we were married and I’d still be doing so if we weren’t married. Prior to marriage, when we started The Bridge together, would anyone have thought to ask, “what are your days like as the girlfriend of the pastor?” I care for my husband the same as any other wife would, and I don’t do it differently because he’s a pastor- I’d love and encourage him and serve him just the same if he were a mechanic or had a newspaper delivery round. Sure, life is different because of the work we’re involved in, but just because I’m a woman do not assume that I play a certain role, much like the First Lady in a man’s Presidency.

To be honest, this question belittles me. I am not primarily a woman and certainly not primarily the wife of a pastor. I am primarily a human created in God’s image and his servant. Equal with my husband in EVERY way, including my calling. So if you’d like to know what an average day looks like for me, ask but don’t taint it with sexist assumptions or gender roles.

I could go on to rant about a lot of things people assume right now, but I’ll keep it at that for now lest I become a sourpuss.

For the Love of God, Don’t Call Me Pastor’s Wife.